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Index / Languages /
Iranian languages



Languages
Figures in 1000
% of Iranian speakers
North-Western
37,500 50.0%
Kurdish
25,200 34.0%
Northern
16,700 23.0%
Central
3,750 5.0%
Southern
3,300 4.4%
Gilaki
3,800 5.1%
Mazandarani
3,200 4.3%
Zaza-Gorani
2,570 3.4%
Zazaki
2,000 2.7%
Dimli
1,700 2.3%
Kirmanjki
300 0.4%
Gorani
450 0.1%
Bajelani
50 0.1%
Hawrami
25 <0.1%
Sarli
20 <0.1%
Shabaki
20 <0.1%
Balochi
2,070 2.8%
Talysh
430 0.6%
Semnani
110 0.1%
Khunsari
25 <0.1%
Ashtiani
22 <0.1%
Vafsi
20 <0.1%
Tati
12 <0.1%
Dari- Zoroastrian
10 <0.1%
Western
1,300 1.7%
Laki
1,300 1.7%
South-Western
35,600 48.0%
Persian
31,300 42.0%
Lori
4,150 5.5%
Lari
80 0.1%
Juhuri
60 0.8%
Tati
50 0.1%
South-Eastern
550 0.7%
Pashto
550 0.7%
Unclassified
10 <0.1%
Luwati
10 <0.1%
TOTAL
74,900 15.0%

Total is calculated to the MENA total of 490 million.

By country
Figures in 1000
% of country population
Bahrain
70 6.4%
Iran
53,150 73.0%
Iraq
4,350 15.0%
Israel
150 2.0%
Jordan
4 0.1%
Kuwait
90 3.3%
Lebanon
80 2.0%
Oman
210 6.2%
Qatar
110 13.0%
Saudi Arabia
140 0.6%
Syria
2,000 10.0%
Turkey
13,600 18.0%
United Arab Emirates
940 20.0%

Language family; representing several different languages with similarities in structure and history. In MENA region, close to 75 million speak an Iranian language as daily language.
Subgroup to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family, divided between 10 major languages (more than 1 million speakers), by between 150 and 200 million people. Seven countries have more than 1 million Iranian speakers: Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
The actual number of Iranian languages differs according to definitions. Ethnologue distinguishes 87 variants. For the many Iranian languages, or dialects, there is no definite system of classification. Languages are largely grouped according to geography.
The largest are Persian, Pashto, Kurdish and Balochi.
This history of Iranian languages stretch at least 3 millennium back in time, and the development of the language are usually divided into three categories: Ancient, Middle and Modern Iranian.
Iranian languages have an history dating back through millenniums, in a region which is one of the central ones in world history. As of now, this outline includes living languages, there are several extinct languages for which there are good historical records.

Modern
The connection between Middle (see below) and Modern Iranian is hard to reconstruct, as well as the shift from one to the other. Modern Persian represents the merger of Middle Persian and Parthian, as well as taking specific elements from other languages.
Four Iranian languages are official languages of their native states: Perisan in iran, Tajik in Tajikistan.
Persian speakers and Tajik speakers can easily understand one another.

North-Western
This is a large group of Iranian languages, but does not include Iranian. Kurdish and Balochi are the real large languages here, with Gilaki as a number three. There is a form of Persian belonging to this group too, but is spoken by a very small number of people.
Kurdish and Balochi are spoken in wide areas, but are not considered official or national languages.
Dari is a dialect of Persian, and spoken in Afghanistan where it also is recognized as second language.
There are several very small languages to this group too. They distinguish themselves by being spoken in isolated villages in thinly populated areas.

Western
This group is really just one language. Laki represents a transition between the northern and southern forms of Western Iranian.

South-Western
With Persian belonging to this group, it is the largest group of Iranian languages. But apart from Persian, the only other language of any size here is Lori. Other languages of this group are either extinct or spoken by a very small number of people, between 600 and 2,000.

North-Eastern
All languages of this group are now extinct, with two exceptions.
Ossetic is spoken by between 500,000 and 700,000 living in the Ossetian regions in Russia and Georgia. There are two main dialects: Iron and Digor. Iron is the largest of the two, and uses shorter syllables than Digor. Ossetic is not mutually intelligible with other Iranian languages.
Yaghnobi is spoken by 10,000-15,000 living in Tajikistan, as well as in Uzbekistan.

South-Eastern
To this group belongs a large number of living languages, spoken in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan. The only one of these that is of any size, is Pashto, spoken by an estimated 38 million. The other languages are small, with between 1,000 and 100,000.

Ancient Iranian
This category is often referred to as Old Iranian. Good information has been found from written texts and inscriptions on two main forms, Avestan and Old Persian. It is most likely that there were other forms of Iranian, but these were the culturally and politically influential, other forms must have been used by peoples of little lasting influence.
Avestan can be traced back to Northeastern Iran. This was the language used for the creation of the Avesta, the religious scripture of Zoroastrianism. These date perhaps back as far as the 6th century BCE.
Old Persian belongs mainly to Southwestern Iran.
It appears to have been a good degree of mutual intelligibility of the Iranian languages. /*/ By the time Iranian begins to be attested in the 6th century BC, the language is already found differentiated into several distinct languages. Scholars have reconstructed the sound system and some of the grammatical features of Common Old Iranian, the protolanguage that preceded these dialects.

Middle Iranian
This is a form of Iranian that belongs to the 1250 year long period from around 300 BCE until 950 CE.
There are 3 main forms of western Middle Iranian: Inscribed, Pahlavi and Manichean.
The spoken language of northern Iran was Parthian, corresponding to Manichean.
To the east there were several other languages: Khwarezmian, Sogdian, Saka, Old Ossetic and Bactrian. These languages were spoken in lands corresponding to modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and western Kyrgyzstan; Saka was spoken in was today is Chinese Turkistan (Sinkiang).




By Tore Kjeilen